PULLMAN, Wash. — Roglenda Repp is a quiet standout of the more than 420 graduating seniors from Washington State University’s College of Engineering and Architecture May 9.
Despite her profound hearing loss, Repp graduates with two bachelor degrees in mathematics and mechanical engineering, cum laude (with a 3.5-plus grade point average), and has been accepted to graduate school to continue studies in mechanical engineering.
Her seeming detachment in class and from the whir and grind of the machines in the labs is the result of losing most of her hearing from high fevers when she was 3 years old. She often is buried in the text as professors lecture, coming to class mainly “in respect of the instructors, who can give students a hard time for not attending. I often get very little from the lecture, unless they write something on the board.”
Otherwise, Repp is dynamite.
She not only has hurdled her own learning obstacles as a deaf student in hearing-intensive college dorms, classrooms and social scenes, but Repp was a teaching assistant for the senior integrated design course, taught by mechanical engineering Professor Uma Jayaram. “Roglenda’s contributions have helped other students with complicated software for such manufacturing operations as machining, stamping, injection molding and die casting,” says Jayaram. “And, she has made several big-screen presentations to the class of 34, keeps regular office hours to help them, and grades assignments meticulously with lots of feedback and comments.”
Her professors and support people at WSU call her nothing short of amazing in her aptitude and adjustment to college life. The adjustments on the part of WSU have been minor compared to the extra effort Repp made to master her subjects. She relies on acute lip-reading skills, a voracious reading appetite and above-average intelligence and math aptitude to navigate her silent world. As long as there were written assignments, text readings and visual cues, her knowledge could grow, she said.
“But when professors turn their heads to the board to write equations or divert from the assigned readings, when fire alarms or class bells sound, or when we meet in groups, I’m lost,” says the 24-year-old Spokane native. She says free-ranging interpretive classes such as literature and foreign languages are particularly challenging.
Only eight of WSU’s 20,000 students identify themselves as severely hearing impaired, according to the university’s Disabilities Resource Center. Its staff provided Repp with “only a few note takers” in classes where lip-reading was impossible. Since Repp is not fluent in sign language, signing interpreters were not used. (WSU’s Lynn Potratz is its full-time interpreter, and another 10 are part-timers.) Stevens Residence Hall installed a flashing light in Repp’s room to alert her of building evacuations.
She also joined in the training of an “assistance dog” for a year to help wake her up, cue her when her name is called, or announce visitors at the door. And, she credits her sister, Trena, with making sure she got up in time for critical finals, and her ME classmate and boyfriend, Brian Bowe, “for providing a second set of ears for me when I really needed them,” she adds.
Repp’s staunch independence and self-reliance, fostered by her parents Roger and Glenda, has taken her beyond accommodating. Her positive and approachable spirit cinches her success.
“I’ve always told both my daughters, ‘Rogi’ and Trena, to follow their dreams, and we will support them in whatever way we can,” says Roger. “We’ve never treated Rogi as handicapped. We brought her up to survive in a hearing world — mainstreamed throughout the public schools in Spokane with lots of speech training.”
Both girls are pilots — Trena is licensed and Roglenda is a checkride away. Next, they’re considering flight jumping. Roglenda also enjoys photography, sewing, and played violin and volleyball at Ferris High School. Trena graduates in zoology from WSU this spring and is charting a course toward veterinary medicine. Before text telephones and closed-caption TV, Trena often was her sister’s interpreter.
Roglenda Repp now enters the highly technical realm of research in virtual reality computing with object-oriented programming that will help manufacturers design, test and prototype new products via computer simulation. Learning in virtual reality allows students to spend more time on a specific piece of equipment without concern for mistakes that cause real personal harm or damage to the machine. She also may be involved in projects that address design for manufacture and assembly. Her second degree in mathematics will help in geometric modeling and the design of efficient algorithms for the high-performance graphics applications, says her mentor Jayaram.
However, Repp hopes another automated computer function will become useful soon to fully engage her in the intense discussions and analytical seminars required of graduate students. It is the developing voice-activated computer, which captures and translates conversation in writing on the screen, similar to text telephones and closed-caption television. Once the voice-lag and need for pauses between words are overcome, such a device could become her best learning aid. Until then, Jayaram says Repp will be made a full participant in discussion through online “chat rooms.”
The entire Repp family — the majority of whom also are WSU Cougars — will celebrate Roglenda’s milestone at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering breakfast reception on graduation day, May 9. If the day’s weather is good, there may be some flying, especially toward the clouds with silver linings.

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